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nicba
August 30th, 2004, 08:10 PM
Once upon a time I used to frequent this part of the sffworld forum a lot, and to try my hand at writing both SF and Fantasy. But I could never seem to get anything finished. I would start a short story, get about half-way through it and then, always, hit a solid wall. The bright flash of inspiration faded too quickly and left me bored with the story. Or else I found that I was unable to write it the way I originally thought it up. Frequently, I found that I had a good beginning, or a good ending, but no "meat" on the real story.

So I grew disgruntled with the whole process and stopped trying to write anything more complex than a shopping list. Until one day I saw this beetle, wandering across the tabletop in front of me. It gave me an idea for a very short story, a story I could complete in less than a thousand words, certainly. So I though: Alright, let's give it a go! Just maybe I can actually finish this one.

I did finish it. And it did turn out to be very short. Would you guys mind looking it over and tell me what you think?

------------------

Breath of Mercy

They came falling down the gravity well of the sun, then slowly drifted through space on the solar wind, silent and unobserved, but spreading.

They permeated the frozen clumps of rock and ice floating beyond Pluto, entered the gaseous layers of Jupiter and fell through the ice on its moon, Europe. And then they reached Earth. Thousands upon thousands of microscopic machines, machines the size of single molecules, yet of unimaginable complexity. They reached the atmosphere and were swept across the planet by the winds of earth, like pollen pregnant with possibility.

Wherever they touched, the air became very clear, very clean. Oceans and rivers were purged of toxins and buried waste broken down into masses of harmless matter. When they touched living beings they penetrated skin, flesh and bone. Ailing organs were subtly strengthened, muscles improved, cancer cells eradicated. Somewhere an old and badly unstable atomic rocket was disabled. Elsewhere a prototype fusion generator suddenly began producing a steady output of power. For nearly a month the microscopic machines worked in the solar system. And then, suddenly, they were all gone again.

In a garden a nine year old girl sat rubbing absently at her left elbow. It itched. A small beetle wandered across her vision. It slipped on a blade of grass and faltered, nearly tipping over on its back. Feeling annoyed, the girl was half-tempted to squash the unfortunate bug. But then she shrugged, smiled, pouted and blew the poor creature a gentle puff of air instead.

The beetle righted itself, stood a moment as if dazed, then continued its trek on a slightly new course.

And so did humanity.

theredpen
August 30th, 2004, 10:37 PM
Since I am not an experienced writer I will give you my literal two cents worth: Sublime, Poety, Good feelings, Nice idea.
I'm guessing this might work as a bit of poetry in a Sci-fi mag, or a bit of Sci-fi in an inspirational mag. Otherwise it sounds like a decent outline for a novel or longer story. The only hard thing I have to say is- that I'm not sure it works as is as a short-short, but it easily could with some tweaking. The (as I say, limited..) advice I have there; is to make it less descriptive and 'describe' more indirectly what is happening. Pick and audience, age-wise at least, and direct it at them. The little girl suggests maybe a middle school or high-school age publication. If you changed her into an older person, it would read to an older audience, it's that good potentially. It might say "The grizzled old fart in the truck saw a beetle..." or "The angry young lawyer in times square in Central park on his lunch hour saw the beetle..." and it would read to whomever...Even if you didn't ever intend to publish, I think that concept would be interesting.
I understand what it's like to get bored with stories, that's a major problem of mine as well.

And I'm not trying to impress you just because you're from Denmark. :cool:

Drew
August 31st, 2004, 12:58 AM
I agree that this could be a somewhat longer, more descriptive work. Possibly still a short story of only a few K words. But does have a nice poetic ring to it the way it is.

I compeletley understand your problem as well. I have probably begun 10 stories (with no length set in stone) in the last year and hit a wall with each of them. I think the last time I finished a story was some crappy stuff I wrote when I was 10/11/12 years old. :p

nicba
September 1st, 2004, 12:38 PM
Thank you very much for your comments.

I guess it could be a bit longer - but then I probably wouldn't have managed to finish it :). And, well, seriously, I think the story would need a bit more "meat" to warrant a longer story. The idea is too thin to carry much more text, I think.

The idea was sort of to start with the "big perspective" then zoom in on the little girl and then out again to let the reader see the analogy between what happened to humanity and to that beetle. I hope that analogy came across?

I wondered about strengthening my "point" by some wordplay on how the nano machines came and went as on "a puff of air" similar to what the girl did to the beetle, but didn't want to be too heavy handed about it. Should I have gone ahead and done it anyway?

Jacquin
September 4th, 2004, 10:09 AM
I disagree.

It doesn't need to be longer, the whole point of good flash fiction is that when you've finished reading it you wish it had've been longer!

I liked it, it's a nice idea and the analogy at the end worked well for me. If it were mine I'd probably cut it down even more. Get rid of some of the descriptive bits, I have a crusade against unnecessary adjectives and adverbs you see.

Eitherway, a nice piece, keep it up!

J

nicba
September 6th, 2004, 03:10 PM
So, there's too many words, eh Jacquin?

If it wouldn't be too presumptuous, I'd probably cite Mozart. The king, upon having heard a new piece of Mozart's music, was asked how he liked it. "There's too many notes in it," he answered. Mozart then asked the king precisly which notes he wished to remove? ...Still, it would be far too presumptuous of me to mention that scene, so I won't. Heh :D.

But, on an entirely serious note, I'm well aware that I have a problem with overly flowery language and too many cliché prashes. I just seem to forget it every time I write something :(.

Upon reading your critique, I tried taking the story and doing a few variations. I decided I really like working with flash fiction! It's so easy to change. No need to wade through page after page, just a few tweaks here and there and you have an entirely different 'feel' to the story.

The first variation I did was almost completely stripped of adjectives, and some of the 'descriptive bits' in the setup died a quick dead too. But when I was done I thought the thing came out a bit too 'flat.' So I reintroduced some (most :o ) of the stuff again. In the end I reached a compromise that I think is a bit better than what I started out with. Now, if I could just pronounce it finished and quit thinkering with the damn little thing...

Anyway, thank you for your comments!

Jacquin
September 7th, 2004, 09:14 AM
So, there's too many words, eh Jacquin?

If it wouldn't be too presumptuous, I'd probably cite Mozart. The king, upon having heard a new piece of Mozart's music, was asked how he liked it. "There's too many notes in it," he answered. Mozart then asked the king precisly which notes he wished to remove? ...

*snip*

better than what I started out with. Now, if I could just pronounce it finished and quit thinkering with the damn little thing...

Anyway, thank you for your comments!

Why don't you PM me the new version and I'll tell you if there are any words I think should be removed... :D

Take Care

J

JRMurdock
September 7th, 2004, 02:38 PM
My two cents (and this is from having a large number of stories rejected over the past year) is this: The story is very passive and very explanitory. It's a great concept, but more of an explanation of the story versus the actual story. I like what you've written, but it's not really a story. :( I've had similar rejections.

nicba
September 9th, 2004, 04:27 PM
Jacquin: Done. Be merciless!

maus99: Not a story? Well, that's sad :( . Could I ask you to give me some some advice on how you would have written it in a more 'active' mode?Perhaps you could provide an example using a sentence or two from the text?

I'm not so much interested in the story for the sake of the story itself. After all, it's only somewhere about 300 words long. But all this effort will hopefully pay off somehow when, or if, I write something else at another point in time.

So please, anything you can say to help me get better would be appreciated.

JRMurdock
September 9th, 2004, 04:48 PM
Let me break it down by paragraph...




Breath of Mercy
***title...guess I didn't need to point that out, did I?

They came falling down the gravity well of the sun, then slowly drifted through space on the solar wind, silent and unobserved, but spreading.
***This paragraph is an explanation of what is happening. It's good, don't get me wrong.

They permeated the frozen clumps of rock and ice floating beyond Pluto, entered the gaseous layers of Jupiter and fell through the ice on its moon, Europe. And then they reached Earth. Thousands upon thousands of microscopic machines, machines the size of single molecules, yet of unimaginable complexity. They reached the atmosphere and were swept across the planet by the winds of earth, like pollen pregnant with possibility.
***This paragraph also explains what is happening.

Wherever they touched, the air became very clear, very clean. Oceans and rivers were purged of toxins and buried waste broken down into masses of harmless matter. When they touched living beings they penetrated skin, flesh and bone. Ailing organs were subtly strengthened, muscles improved, cancer cells eradicated. Somewhere an old and badly unstable atomic rocket was disabled. Elsewhere a prototype fusion generator suddenly began producing a steady output of power. For nearly a month the microscopic machines worked in the solar system. And then, suddenly, they were all gone again.
***A third paragraph explaining what is happening.

In a garden a nine year old girl sat rubbing absently at her left elbow. It itched. A small beetle wandered across her vision. It slipped on a blade of grass and faltered, nearly tipping over on its back. Feeling annoyed, the girl was half-tempted to squash the unfortunate bug. But then she shrugged, smiled, pouted and blew the poor creature a gentle puff of air instead.
*** This paragraph SHOWS the reader what is happening. There is action, movement, someone doing something. You can close your eyes and see what the little girl is doing.

The beetle righted itself, stood a moment as if dazed, then continued its trek on a slightly new course.
*** This is also a great line as it gives a lot of detail in a simple sentence.

And so did humanity.
*** This is a partial sentence, but a great ending.

Don't be discouraged. The last part of your story is great. The begining is very explanatory and that's what will kill a story. With something so short, you really need to do more showing (like the last part of your story) versus explaining (like the first part of you story). I'll only point out that the last half of your story is much more personal and much more revealing. The first portion leaves me wanting and most readers don't like that -- and publishers don't either for that matter.